Rockabilly clubs in London
Kate Hutchinson checks out the London rockabilly scene and the best clubs
There’s a lot more to the rockabilly scene than a few tubes of Brylcreem and a cartoonish quiff. In fact, it’s one of London’s most exciting after-dark domains. Its all-swinging, all-immaculately coiffured fraternity spans a diverse range of cats, from Teddy boys to hillbillies and psychobillies (the punker version) are boozin’, dancin’ and romancin’, from late-night back-alley boozers to chic-wallpapered lounges.
You only have stroll up Hackney Road to see how the capital is rockin’ again: all manner of vintage seamed stockings and sharp three-piece suits huddle next to hi-top trainers in the queue outside Rock-A-Billy Rebels at Ye Olde Axe every Saturday.
Similarly, at long-running hotspot Lady Luck on nearby Paul Street, there’s an onset of young comb-toting cads taking on the regulars – often much to the latter’s disgruntlement. They go mad for rockabilly’s signature black rhythm ’n’ blues, western swing, honky tonk and hillbilly, but love it combined with interactive performance too, from burlesque at The Virginia Creeper Club to Hula-Hooping at Rock a Hula.
Says Max Mitchell, who has run Rock-A-Billy Rebels for nearly three years: ‘Most of the old rock ’n’ roll guys don’t even live here any more. The established rockers have never been kind to new people, but the cool kids were looking for something vibrant that they could be part of. I wanted to take rockabilly back to its Teddy boy roots: play the very best in rockin’ boppers, jivers and strollers.’
Nonetheless, it’s the original rockers’ unshakeable authenticity that inspires the new generation. You’ll find many up at the Ace Café, run by rockabilly stalwart Mark Wilsmore. The trailer-like diner looks as if it has been airlifted out of the Californian desert and plonked on the North Circular at Stonebridge Park, but it’s been here since 1938. Here, rockabillies exercise their other passion alongside music and fashion: cars. For those who can afford it, it’s the ultimate place to show off a vintage motor, or get down to weekly guest bands. Every evening there’s a different tribe parked up front admiring each other’s engines, from hot rods and rat rods to classic bike nights.
It’s also a celebration of the decade’s past glamour. You can always tell a true rockabilly by their attire. Vivien Wilson, who runs 1950s dress shop Vivien of Holloway, is an original rockabilly who has seen the fashions adapt over the years. On the new emerging styles she says, ‘People have always crossed over. When I was young there were just Teddy boys [three-piece suits, big quiffs, chain watches and, surprisingly, loads of tattoos] but we didn’t want to dress like our parents, so we wore more denim, chequered shirts and big sweaters.’ There’s an emphasis on quality too, and Wilsmore asserts that ‘We are very aware that things were made to last. It’s about the weight of that leather jacket or the way that cotton shirt has been stitched together.’
Nowadays, rockabilly has come to represent the entire era’s style trends, with the new wave blending old school hip hop hallmarks like chains and flat-top haircuts with a floppier mop, but some things never change: its roots will always stay firmly in rock ’n’ roll. Marilyn Virginia, hostess of renowned rockabilly night The Virginia Creeper Club (www.thevirginiacreepersclub.com), explains: ‘It’s always a very late night crowd – they don’t come early because, of course, they take hours to get dressed up. But if you’re a true rockin’ girl or boy, then the core thing are always the bands and the DJs.
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